Though Donald Trump is famous for it, and Winston Peters gave it a go on Twitter this week, it's rare to find someone who refers to themselves in the third person.

Now scientists say there could be a therapeutic use for it.

In fact, silently talking to yourself in the third person during stressful times may help you control emotions without any additional mental effort than you would use for first-person self-talk - the way people normally talk to themselves.

A study led by US psychology researchers suggests such third-person self-chatter may constitute a relatively effortless form of self-control.


Say a man named Reon is upset about the Hurricanes being knocked out of the Super Rugby semifinal.

By simply reflecting on his feelings in the third person - "why is Reon upset?" - Reon is less emotionally reactive than when he addresses himself in the first person, asking "why am I upset?".

"Essentially, we think referring to yourself in the third person leads people to think about themselves more similarly to how they think about others, and you can see evidence for this in the brain," said study author Jason Moser, an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University.

"That helps people gain a tiny bit of psychological distance from their experiences, which can often be useful for regulating emotions."

The study involved two experiments that both significantly reinforced this main conclusion.

In one experiment, participants viewed neutral and disturbing images and reacted to the images in both the first and third person while their brain activity was monitored by an electroencephalograph.

When reacting to the disturbing photos, such as a man holding a gun to their heads, participants' emotional brain activity decreased very quickly - within a second - when they referred to themselves in the third person.

The researchers also measured participants' effort-related brain activity and found that using the third person was no more effort than using first person self-talk.


This boded well for using third-person self-talk as an on-the-spot strategy for regulating one's emotions, Moser said, as many other forms of emotion regulation require considerable thought and effort.